Disaster risk reduction, prevention and preparedness

As economic and urban growth continues in many countries, an increasing number of investments – both human and physical – are being exposed to new and more intense disaster risks. Working with partners to build disaster resilience through effective planning, technological innovation, risk management as well as asset protection and enhancement will encourage private sector investment and support a stable and prosperous region. Over the last four financial years, Australia has maintained a steady annual investment of over $100 million in disaster risk reduction, through our bilateral and regional programs, to protect development gains in the Indo-Pacific, the world’s most disaster-prone region.

Why we give aid

Disasters destroy lives, livelihoods and infrastructure; they undermine development, create instability and reverse economic growth. The impact of natural disasters in the Indo-Pacific region prevents millions of people from breaking out of poverty. Reducing risk and building resilience to disasters is a priority not only to save lives but also for sustainable economic growth. Australia is susceptible to disasters and we are recognised globally for our disaster risk management expertise in governance, preparedness, hazard identification and technological innovation. We share this expertise internationally through international forums and our aid program.

Disasters are deadly:

  • In the past decade (2004-2013), almost 980,000 people were reportedly killed and almost two billion affected by natural disasters1.
  • More than 1.6 billion people in the East Asian and Pacific region were affected by disasters between 2000 and 20112.

Disasters damage infrastructure and economies:

  • The economic losses from disaster over the past 30 years are estimated at US$3.5 trillion3. The 2013 Global Assessment Report by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction forecasts that the world can expect losses from disasters to double by 20304.
  • Pacific Island countries are among the world’s most heavily affected by natural disasters. The average annual losses for Vanuatu and Tonga are estimated by the World Bank at 6.6 percent and 4.4 percent of GDP respectively5.
  • In 2013, the damage after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines was estimated at approximately US$ 13 billion6.
  • More than 14,500 schools in the ASEAN region were fully or partially damaged by earthquakes, typhoons, floods, landslides, tsunamis and other hazards in the five years to 20137.

Exposure to disasters in our region is high:

  • The Asia Pacific region is the most disaster prone region in the world, with a person living in the region almost twice as likely to be affected by a disaster as a person living in Africa, almost six times as likely compared with Latin America and the Caribbean, and 30 times more likely than a person living in North America or Europe8.

Disasters disproportionately affect the poor and vulnerable:

    Since 1980, low income countries have accounted for only nine percent of the disaster events but 48 percent of the fatalities9.
  • Disasters affect the poor and vulnerable disproportionately, especially women, children, the elderly, and those recovering from the impact of conflicts10. Women are more likely than men to die from natural disasters when their socioeconomic status is low11.

How we give aid

Disaster risk reduction incorporates all efforts to prevent or minimise the impact of natural disasters. Activities includes hazard and risk mapping, flood protection mechanisms, resilient building and construction practices, considered land use management, early warning systems, evacuation plans and drills, livelihood diversification and broadening access to insurance. These activities strengthen the ability of governments, businesses and communities to better respond to and cope with natural disasters, and enable a quicker recovery in a way that supports sustainable development outcomes.

Stronger disaster risk management will not only support governments and communities to improve preparedness before a crisis and during an emergency response, but also supports effective recovery. Building back better will make countries and communities more resilient to future disasters.

To support partner governments in implementing disaster risk reduction, Australia works with a number of partners including non-government organisations, the World Bank and United Nations agencies. DFAT works closely with other Australian Government agencies on disaster risk reduction, including the Attorney-General’s Department and Geoscience Australia.

Disaster risk reduction enables sustainable development

Australia’s collaboration with the governments of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines has built understanding of hazard and risk science and resulted in the development of tools to model the impact of floods, earthquakes, volcanos and tsunami. Multi-hazard software platforms are being used to assess where people, assets, and activities will likely be affected by natural disasters. These impact and risk assessments are supporting local governments in improving land use, contingency planning and targeting development investments. This work has harnessed the expertise of scientists at Geoscience Australia.

Australia has collaborated with the Government of Indonesia and the World Bank to develop InaSAFE, an award winning hazard impact modelling tool. InaSAFE is free and open source software that anyone with basic computer skills can use. It produces realistic disaster scenarios for contingency planning and has been designed to help Indonesia and other countries in the region to effectively prepare for natural disasters by better understanding their likely impacts.

Australia also supports the Pacific Risk Resilience Program to help identify disaster risks and support governments to incorporate disaster risk management across key sectors including finance, education and food security. The program operates in Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu – countries that experience economic losses as a result of disasters on an annual basis. For example, in Tonga, communities affected by Tropical Cyclone Ian (2014) are restoring crops and livelihoods in ways that build resilience to the next cyclone. In Solomon Islands, 21 schools in Temotu and schools across Guadalcanal Province are developing and implementing disaster plans.

Leadership and advocacy

Australia advocates for strong global disaster risk reduction action and was one of the first of 168 United Nations Member States to sign the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015. Australia engaged in negotiations for the post-2015 disaster risk reduction framework, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 which was adopted on 18 March 2015 at the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Japan. The Sendai Framework identifies four priorities for action: understanding disaster risk; strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk; investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience; and enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response and to ‘Build Back Better’ in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Australia supports the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), the agency responsible for the coordination of disaster reduction in the UN system. DFAT’s partnership with UNISDR’s Asia-Pacific Program helps improve community resilience and coordination of disaster risk reduction activities in the region. UNISDR also organises the biennial Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, the main global forum for disaster risk reduction, and publishes the biennial Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction.

Australia also supports the World Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), a global partnership of 41 countries and eight international organisations committed to helping developing countries reduce their vulnerability to natural hazards. GFDRR conducts post-disaster needs assessments across the Indo-Pacific and supports national governments in recovery and reconstruction, and reducing the cost of future disasters. DFAT and GFDRR are working on a Global Program for Safer Schools to save lives, protect investments in school infrastructure and minimise disruption to education.

Improving understanding of disasters and resilience

2015 Global Assessment Report

Australia, through Geoscience Australia, is contributing Asia-Pacific hazard modelling information to support the Global Assessment Report (GAR) on Disaster Risk Reduction. The GAR is published biennially by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction to provide analysis and information to governments and key decision-makers managing global disaster risk.

Women’s Resilience Index

Australia places great importance on building community resilience – and on progressing gender equality and empowering women and girls. Disasters affect people differently and women and girls have specific needs before, during and after a disaster.

Australia funded the South Asia Women’s Resilience Index, a tool commissioned by ActionAid and developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The Index assesses the capacity of women in South Asian countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) to withstand and recover from disasters, and the level of their participation in national resilience-building efforts. For further information see The Economist website.

The Index will serve as the starting point for dialogue and analysis on areas that country and regional policymakers should focus on to formulate plans for action to improve the resilience of women.

OECD Resilience Measurement

Australia has supported the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) to develop a tool for measuring the level of resilience in a society or community. The work will enable partner governments and donors to target investment in effective resilience building programs. The tool was recently applied to assist in the development of the Regional Refugee & Resilience Plan 2015-16 in Response to the Syrian Crisis.

For further information see the OECD’s ‘Guidelines for Resilience Systems Analysis’12.


1. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, World Disaster Report 2014, pp.226-9.


3. The World Bank, The Sendai Report: Managing Disaster Risks for a Resilient Future, 2012, p.4.

4. UNISDR, Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2013: From Shared Risk to Shared Value –The Business Case for Disaster Risk Reduction. Geneva, Switzerland: United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2013.

5. Jha, Abhas K.; Stanton-Geddes, Zuzana. 2013. Strong, safe, and resilient: A strategic policy guide for disaster risk management in East Asia and the Pacific. Directions in development; environment and sustainable development. Washington D.C: The World Bank.

6. Government of the Philippines National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, January 2014.

7. ASEAN Safe School Initiative Phase 1 Report, 2013, p.5.


9. The World Bank, The Sendai Report: Managing Disaster Risks for a Resilient Future, 2012, p.4.

10. The World Bank, The Sendai Report: Managing Disaster Risks for a Resilient Future, 2012, p.4.

11. Jha, Abhas K.; Stanton-Geddes, Zuzana. 2013. Strong, safe, and resilient: A strategic policy guide for disaster risk management in East Asia and the Pacific. Directions in development; environment and sustainable development. Washington D.C: The World Bank, p. xxix.

12. OECD, Guidelines for resilience systems analysis, OECD Publishing, 2014.